Stereotypes and Young Girls: Boo-Boos That Don’t Heal
By Lisa Regula Meyer
By now, hopefully at least a few of you have gotten a chance to see the new reality show on The Learning Channel, “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo,” which follows Alana (a.k.a. Honey Boo-Boo), through her life as a young beauty pageant queen, along with the rest of her family. The family is a veritable train wreck, whatever your opinion of the Toddlers and Tiaras lifestyle and its effects on kids.
In other news, Disney recently drastically revamped Ursula from The Little Mermaid into, well, a vamp -to help promote their Villains line of makeup. They’ve taken a rotund, double-chinned octopus and turned her into a svelte, chiseled-cheekbone bearing diva. While I applaud the fact that they are moving past the ugly=evil position that they’ve had for a while now, I’m not happy with the message that beautiful=stick-thin, either; let alone marketing makeup with the Disney Princesses.
“Now, what on earth does Honey Boo-Boo have to do with Disney’s makeup endeavors?” you may be asking yourself by now. For starters, the Disney princess franchise sets up impossibly high beauty standards for girls, and some seriously shady messages about gender roles in society (granted, they have had some better role models lately, but the classic -and most heavily marketed- princesses are not what you want your daughter aspiring to, at least in my opinion).
Girls who have a well-defined sense of self, and are already confident in themselves (not common at the age which most girls are introduced to Disney princesses) run little risk of conforming her identity to that presented by outside forces, or internalizing those viewpoints. However, if the girl accepts and internalizes this view of “correct” female aesthetics and roles, then there are a few ways things can go. At one extreme end, you have Honey Boo-Boo -loud, confident, demanding, with a life centered on a specific view of beauty. At the other end of the spectrum, or possibly later in the girl’s development, there’s the Bratz version -many of the same traits as Honey Boo-Boo, but with a rebellious streak. Worst-case scenario, she ends up involved with drugs and promiscuity, possibly pregnant or with an STD. For anyone who hasn’t seen the Bratz dolls, think of a Barbie doll with more makeup, fewer curves, and a younger face, often wearing go-go boots, micro-minis, and leopard print.
Whichever direction a girl or young woman ends up going, she will be judged. If she ends up like Honey Boo-Boo, she’s laughed at, ridiculed, and parodied. If she ends up like the Bratz, she’s likely to be slut-shamed (insulting a female for her real or perceived breaking of sexual norms and roles in that society). There is no winning for girls who follow this path of princesses and stereotypes, but we continue to press them into these stereotypes. We claim inherent differences in boys and girls; that girls are drawn to princesses and pink by birth, even though the bulk of the data points to gender as socially constructed, similar to the way race is socially constructed, through others’ expectations of us, and our responses to those expectations.
The worst part of this whole scenario isn’t the pain we inflict on girls because of who they are and what they look like. The worst part of this process is the fact that we give them choices -not to help them avoid the pain and ridicule- but simply in what kind of pain and ridicule they eventually receive. The cruelty is the lie we feed our daughters, and the very limited options we expect of them.